When we think back to our school canteen lunches, the options were pretty uninspiring – soggy meat pies, rubbery sausage rolls and don’t forget the flavoured milk. This was okay occasionally, but these days, with parents working long hours and doing the dreaded daily commute, there needs to be better canteen options to make life easier and healthier for the whole family. One lady who has recognised this is Kathy Lowe, the ‘canteen lady’ at Blairmount Public School near Campbelltown.
Four years ago, Kathy took a leap of faith and completely transformed the school’s canteen. She had no prior canteen experience, but what she did have was a passion for cooking fresh and nutritious food. She named the canteen Kathy’s Kitchen and started a revolution, serving up veggie loaded snacks, fresh crunchy salads and natural fruity treats. We have been following Kathy online for a couple of years so were thrilled to meet her in person at her local greengrocer, Campbelltown Country Fresh, to find out more about her incredible work.
What we were most keen to find out was how did she convert the tastebuds of hundreds of primary school children who were used to the unhealthy options which had been served up for decades?
Naturally, she faced some resistance to the canteen changes at first but persevered as she knew from her personal experience that it was possible to learn to love healthy food. She grew up on a traditionally bland Anglo-Saxon diet of meat served with overcooked vegetables and tasteless fried foods. It wasn’t until her 20’s, when she met her now-husband’s family, that she discovered vibrant fresh vegetables that they would serve at every family dinner. This opened her eyes to a completely new way of eating which changed her life. She believed that the kids would learn to love eating like this too.
To win them over, there were two things she knew she had to do: Use the freshest produce available and present it beautifully!
For the freshest produce, Kathy shops at her local greengrocer, Campbelltown Country Fresh. She’s there every Sunday, picking up seasonal fruit and veggies for the busy week ahead. But it’s not just the fresh ingredients that keep her going back – it’s the helpful staff too.
The staff at Campbelltown Country Fresh know when to expect Kathy and are always on hand to help her with her shop. They pick out the sweetest fruit for her and let her know the best specials of the week, which helps to keep the canteen prices down, benefiting kids and parents. They also go the extra mile for her, storing her shopping until she can take it to school on Monday morning and even helping her load her car. As a bonus, Campbelltown Country Fresh has its very own cafe on site, so Kathy can even have a cuppa while she shops.
It’s not just Kathy that gets this ‘special treatment’. We are regular visitors of Campbelltown Country Fresh too because of the friendly service and the huge range of fruit and veggies available. We know that we are getting serious value for money when we visit this local greengrocer as the produce is great quality and straight from the Sydney Markets.
On top of that, there’s also a huge range of continental pantry and deli items available, like pickles, condiments, breads and cheese. Kathy shops for these at Campbelltown Country Fresh too and encourages the kids at Blairmount Public School to try different things like olives and sundried tomatoes. She lets them know that it is okay not to like something, but just give it a go!
Once Kathy has got her beautiful fresh produce into the canteen, it’s how she serves it that then makes the difference. Everything is chopped daily to keep it as fresh as can be and tasting its absolute best. Kathy is also passionate about showcasing the food so it looks really fun and exciting for the kids. She serves up healthy snacks in fun, reusable containers and makes cute shapes out of fruit, wholemeal bread and cheese. Plates of salads and nutritious hot meals are colourful and enticing. She even has the kids offering to help out and checking in each morning to find out what’s on the lunch menu.
Since starting Kathy’s Kitchen, Kathy has seen the kids learn to make healthy choices and understand why this is important for them. She tells us that teachers have even noticed a positive change in many of their students’ behaviour since the canteen’s revolution.
Kathy is always finding ways to improve the school canteen. She’s just started an online ordering system so parents can pre-order and pay for their child’s meals in advance. She has also started serving food in reusable containers which the kids return to the canteen after they have finished their meal, making the canteen healthier for the environment as well as the kids.
It’s no surprise that Kathy has become an inspiration for other school canteens. She receives hundreds of messages each week, asking for advice and tips. Kathy’s passion for helping kids to eat healthy is making a huge difference in her community. The work she does at Blairmount Public School is helping to set these Western Sydney kids up for a healthy, happy life.
The Carousel would like to thank the Western Sydney Food Blog for this article. You can check out more from Sharon Williams and Alice Longhurst’s fabulous site, click here.
This article was voted as the best story about a greengrocer at the 2017 Sydney Markets Fresh. You can watch Chris Bath’s interview with the winners of the Fresh Awards Best Producer Grower category, here.
For more stories on the Sydney Markets Fresh Awards, click here.